Trump keeps bluffing badly and for no reason

Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP-PRISON REFORM
US President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting on prison reform in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, January 11, 2018. / AFP PHOTO ...

In poker, bluffing is an important strategic move. If you're playing a bad hand, for example, you can keep upping the ante in the hopes of convincing the other players that you actually have a good hand, persuading them to fold. The risk, of course, is that your rivals will see through your bluff, at which point you'll lose even more of your money.

I'm starting to think Donald Trump doesn't understand the point of bluffing -- because like his routine lying, the president seems to do it for no good reason.

On Wednesday, Trump endorsed a massive government spending bill, and on Thursday, the White House and its allies spent much of the day telling everyone how much the president is looking forward to signing the omnibus package into law. This morning, however, Trump, for reasons that are not yet clear, threatened to veto the proposal he ostensibly supports because it lacks immigration provisions he claims to support.

In response, lawmakers didn't bother to offer Trump anything -- at which point he signed it anyway.

Speaking at the White House, Trump called the spending bill a "ridiculous situation," while standing in the White House Diplomatic Room, flanked by Vice President Mike Pence, and several Cabinet members."There are a lot of things I'm unhappy about in this bill," the president said, pointing to the inclusion of unspecified items in the bill that he said were added in order to get necessary funding for the U.S. military.

Trump added that he "will never sign another bill like this again" -- in part because "nobody read it" before it passed -- and that threat might actually mean something if anyone had reason to believe the president's warnings.

So what did Trump gain from raising the prospect of vetoing this bill, only to back down a few hours later? Nothing of value. For all his trouble, despite the manufactured drama, the only thing the president gained from this experience is fresh evidence that he bluffs badly.

What's more, Trump didn't do his stature any favors, either: he condemned the spending package as wasteful, and then signed into law anyway, as if he were powerless to defend his stated principles. Presidents don't generally go out of their way to make themselves appear weak like this.

The broader question is why this mini-fiasco happened in the first place. My hunch is that Trump's impulses once again got the better of him: the White House endorsed the legislation; the president didn't know that; and when he saw something on Fox News this morning, he had a knee-jerk reaction without consulting any of his aides or allies.

Whatever the explanation, even by 2018 standards, this little stunt didn't do Trump any favors.

Postscript: The president this afternoon also asked Congress to give him a line-item veto. Trump probably doesn't know this, but the Supreme Court rejected a line-item veto as unconstitutional 20 years ago.